PROVO — Pepperdine came oh-so-close to doing something only four teams have accomplished against the BYU women’s volleyball team this season.
The Waves almost won.
No, not a "win" win. Including the Cougars’ 3-0 victory Saturday, an opponent still hasn’t managed to do that in 20 matches against BYU. High-ranked Stanford is the only team that’s given the nation’s No. 1 squad a real scare, and that was almost two months ago.
Rather, the Waves nearly won a set against the Cougars, something that’s nearly as rare as a nonexistent BYU loss. Two-thirds of the way through this season, BYU has only lost five sets — and two of those mini-setbacks came in a riveting 3-2 win over the Cardinal when the Cougars established themselves as the country’s cream of the crop on Aug. 31.
But there Pepperdine was near the end of the first set in this match at the Smith Fieldhouse, up 24-23 and looking poised for a shocking result, when the Cougars spoiled their upset bid to win that set en route to a 26-24 first-set victory.
Game. Set. Match.
“We love the challenge. We love the test,” BYU senior Lyndie Haddock-Eppich said. “We know teams are going to come out the best against us, so, yeah, we love it.”
The rowdy crowd of 3,443 certainly loved what the versatile setter did at that point. She saved the set, soaring above the net to block a set-clinching spike attempt by Pepperdine’s Shannon Scully. Outside hitter Roni Jones-Perry sealed the set for the home team with a hit off a Pepperdine player’s hands for a 26-24 result.
BYU cruised through the next two sets, 25-13 and 25-8, to improve to 20-0 overall and 9-0 in WCC action. Pepperdine, the second-best team in the league, dropped to 13-6, 7-2 after losing to the Cougars for the second time this season and the 14th time in a row.
That first set was the latest adversity the Cougars have overcome during this magical season, and their coach enjoyed how they responded.
“I loved the first set. I thought we were playing well. I thought Pepperdine was playing well,” said BYU coach Heather Olmstead, pointing out that the Cougars had six hitting errors in the first set.
“Any time you’re going to have errors against a good team like Pepperdine, you’re going to struggle, and that’s what we saw. You can’t give away free points and expect to win against a good team and they’re a really good team.”
BYU only had three errors the rest of the way, while forcing Pepperdine into 17.
Olmstead wasn’t surprised that Haddock-Eppich was in the middle of the pivotal point at the end of that first set. That’s common for the 5-foot-10 athlete who had 35 assists, 11 digs, seven block assists, four total attempts and three kills while wreaking havoc for the visitors from all areas of the court.
“Lyndi’s doing a good job playing free and playing for her teammates, earning her space, back row and front row,” Olmstead said. “She’s just so athletic. I think it just energizes us when she makes a play — when anyone does — but she’s a go-getter, and she’s our anchor right now as far as our offense, and our leader. She’s that quiet leader, and she’s doing a great job.”
Haddock-Eppich respectfully credited the coaching staff for her huge, momentum-changing play.8 comments on this story
“It was one-on-one. We know she loves to hit that angle, so shout out to our coaches. They help us get those blocks,” she said. “A lot of times it looks like it’s us, but they’re the ones telling us beforehand this is what they’re going to do.”
Haddock-Eppich was also complimentary of the visiting Waves’ energy to begin the match. They forced BYU to adjust by sealing lower to see the hitter better, she pointed out.
Though BYU has only lost five of sets while winning 60 and hasn’t dropped a set in four matches, Haddock-Eppich said that isn’t the goal for this Cougar team.
“As long as we win the game,” she said, “it’s all that matters, you know?”
Nobody could argue otherwise at this point.